Your Front Entry 

More than just a first impression.

Ironically, despite how much we like the idea of a beautiful front entry, most homeowners today do not actually utilize their front entrance on a daily basis. Unless living in an older residence that has an no attached garage, no decent back or side entry or where parking is closer to the front door, most folks in newer homes come inside through the garage. The age and design of a house has everything to do with how the front entry was originally intended to function - and good design solutions should vary as well, especially when you factor in specific homeowner requirements like handicap access or in-home offices. Regardless-- for any age house and with any client, there are some consistent key organizing principles to consider when remodeling or building a front entry that make it attractive to use. While first impressions are critical, it is important to note that these spaces serve multiple functions and can improve the “feel” of your house dramatically in ways that you might not even be aware are affecting you and your guests.

A handsome, well designed entryway does more to welcome your friends and family than a perfect paint job or a freshly clipped lawn. Depending on how it is developed, an entryway can add or detract significantly from the value of your property; it can even make or break a sale. When done correctly, a main entry should make you smile every time you drive –or walk¬- up to your house. It should also complement the interior space just inside the door giving you hints about how to circulate into adjacent rooms. On the exterior, an entryway is far more than just a door to get in and out or a “look” to enjoy. It is intended to provide clear visual signals about how and where to enter the house and should provide a clear sense of invitation. Finally, your front entry can act as a valuable buffer zone between you and the outside world from street noise or for visual privacy – adding to the sense of intimacy on the interior.

The front door of your home is a public point of entry into your private domain. If man’s home is his castle, then the front entry is the drawbridge! It is the key point at which energy and all things from the outside world flow into your private inner space. Often overlooked -or overblown- today, the front entry is THE key signature of your home’s personality. Unfortunately, too many entryways are boring portals, serving only as a way to get in and out of the house, increasing the likelihood that they will never be used at all. How many times have you walked up to the front of a home with two doors, uncertain as to which way to go? Depending on how it is developed, an entry can be welcoming or off-putting, intuitive or confusing, a pleasant experience or a chaotic one. Some even appear non-existent if left covered with vegetation or dwarfed by an attached garage.

Along with your roof line style and other exterior architectural elements, entryways are part of the architectural fabric of your home. A well designed front entry provides clues to the period, age and character of a house, the interior and its occupants. For older homes this is particularly significant. If you take a drive through a historical neighborhood, you will find entrances and porches in various shapes and sizes that served as outdoor gathering spaces for neighbors and families to sit and talk and which quickly identify the house as a Victorian or a Bungalow.

With the advent of the automobile and attached garages, entryways too often become subordinated by the private entry through the garage. The entry experience unceremoniously dumps homeowners into rooms with cleaning products and dirty laundry. Imagine how this affects you each day as you come home after work! In earlier periods, houses stood alone with detached garages that set the house apart as distinct, commodious architectural forms. As the demand for bigger attached garages has grown -especially those facing the street, one of the biggest challenges designers face is to try to set the public front entry apart as the natural focal point on a pleasing façade and to downplay the large and looming garage massing.

So what are the key components that make a good entry? A great way to think about the main entrance of a home is to regard it as a process, not just a door. It is really a sequence of places and spaces that start at the street. These small but important experiences bring visitors carefully from the public arena into your private domain in a sequence of planned events. These events provide clues that direct the viewer to the proper entry location and create an inviting and intuitive way to get there.

If you are remodeling or building a new front entryway to improve the look of your home don’t forget to carefully analyze the surrounding site and vegetation, the contours of the land, orientation to sun and wind directions, and the fabric of the neighborhood in which you live. Is the main entry close to the driveway or the more private side door? Are they both visible from the front of the house confusing the viewer as to the proper approach to your home? Does the path to the front door take full advantage of a best view of the home’s façade as you walk up to it? The shortest distance to the door is not always the best if it takes you tightly alongside the house wall with views of the hose, foundations and air conditioning equipment.

Once reaching the face of the house, the exterior space -usually a porch or stoop in front of the door- is equally important. Does this “outdoor receiving room” give visitors permission to be there even before the door is opened? Is there a sense of shelter and arrival? If your home is located high on a hill in the path of prevailing winter winds that blow mercilessly across the porch, you might consider an architectural detail or landscape solution to provide snow and wind barriers. A small roof or overhang can offer protection from the elements and additionally reach out to welcome visitors. If done, this element should extend out beyond the face of the door at least 2’-6” and should direct rain water away from the stoop below. Once on the stoop, can visitors hear the doorbell when pressed or see movement within to reassure them that someone knows they are there?

Additionally, a well planned entry is designed from both sides. An “outdoor receiving space” can also be invaluable if indoor space is tight and it can serve some of the same functions as an inner foyer. Once inside the door, is there a good staging spot to drop coats and boots? Does it dump you directly into the living room (or laundry room if a private entry) or is there ample space to remove your outer garments and orient yourself to being home? An inner foyer is typically the final stop in a proper entry sequence from the outside world to your inner sanctum. Adding a favorite piece of art, a photograph or furniture can make it an enjoyable experience. It sounds odd, but borrowing space from even a small living room to create a modest foyer can make the living room feel bigger and enhance the entry experience. A small foyer can be defined with architectural elements like interior archways, a floor material change or smartly placed furniture, cabinetry or hooks. No matter how lovely a space is, it must function well or it will not be enjoyed by the user and therefore not fully utilized.

Some thought should be given to the look of the private entry as well. It will work best if designed in tandem with the front entry so the two do not conflict if both are seen on the exterior of the building, especially if in close proximity. Landscaping, design variations, size and prominence help the visitor to know where to knock and wait. Private and public entries serve different functions but the same principles apply for both. If you are planning your mudroom and daily entry spaces, be sure to allow enough space for two to three people to stand comfortably, avoid door swings in the direct path and keep storage of supplies and equipment out of the main travel area.

Overall, whether you are remodeling or building new, consider the details required for a pleasant and functional entry experience as a key part of good home design. These are spaces that are utilized many times a day. Proper composition and proportion on the exterior as well as an intelligent use of space and light on the interior are additional qualitative components to enliven an entry design and create good chemistry between house and homeowner. For simple upgrade options, trim accents or decorative elements can help an otherwise bland exterior if all the other organizing principles are in place. A new door with glass,(frosted for privacy or clear for viewing) can change the character of the interior dramatically. The use of color and even something as simple as a new storm door can transform your home’s entry in unimaginable ways, update an outmoded home, and provide your home with a character and personality that is tailored to you.

By: Debra Moore
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Debra Moore attends Remodelers Advantage Round Table Confrence 

For the past three days owner, Debra Moore, has been attending the annual Remodelers Advantage Round Table Community Meetings in Austin, Texas.

During these meetings Debra is expanding her professional network and building relationships with other remodelers from around the country. Through these relationships she will gain new business/building strategies and insights to bring back to our Ann Arbor office.
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Choosing a team for your new addition. 

Here’s a quick comparison of two different ways of working.

Additionally a builder who is not a design professional may have a favorite architect or designer they like to work with and can bring them in to join your team. Some companies have a kitchen and bath specialist or an interior designer on staff and that may tip the scales if these are key areas your project addresses. Everyone works a little differently and there is no easy answer.

Try this checklist of questions to get to know your potential teammates:

1. Are you licensed?
2. Are you insured? (workers compensation and liability insurance or if an architect errors and omissions insurance)
3. How long have you been in business in this area?
4. What kind of projects do you do most often?
5. How does your design process work? How much does it cost?
6. What comparable projects to the one I’m planning could I go see? (Make sure to set up a visit to an actual project they’ve done so you can touch and feel the work, and perhaps even talk with the homeowner.)
7. How long did it take, and what was the budget?
8. Do you offer any “green” building techniques, materials, or products?
9. What kind of ongoing certification or training do you or your subs attend?
10. Do you have a single Project Manager?
11. How much contact will I have with him or her?
12. How many projects are handled simultaneously by the Project Manager?
13. Are there assistants, and if so, how many?
14. What are your usual communication methods with a client? Email? Phone? Daily visits to the site? A logbook with comments?
15. How do you handle change requests?
16. How will you accommodate my family’s needs, assuming we live on-site during the project? (kids, pets, home office)
17. What are your typical site safety and clean up arrangements? (Dumpster, daily tidy up, portable toilets, no smoking, OSHA signs posted, first aid kit on-site, etc.)
18. How do you typically price? What are the payment terms for a project like mine? (thirds, at milestone points, change orders at time of specification, etc.) Do you offer financing?
19. Do you have a warranty? How long is it in effect?
20. What percentage of your clients are repeat customers?

Ultimately what is important is that you are confident that whoever (and whichever model) you choose has the skill set that can meet your design and construction expectations. Look for someone whose comments and ideas inspire you! Look for a strong team player that can help you:

•save money, especially in the long term
•design space that will enhance your resale value
•analyze the return on your investment
•improve personal comfort and enjoyment in your home
•reduce maintenance and utility costs
•ensure a seamless marriage between your new addition and your existing house
•bring creative fresh ideas and products to the table
•“future proof” your project by factoring in enough flexibility so you are making smart investment decisions for the future
•understand and implement “timeless design” principles

The right team, right information and right attitude will become apparent as you widen your search. After your homework is done, go with your gut. Because in the end… it’s the talent, quality and fit of the individual you hire that matters the most.

By: Debra C. Moore
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How do I get started with my new addition? 

Okay! So you’ve decided that you want to stay in your home for the long haul. You love your neighbors, the kid’s school system and that easy commute to work. Your job is solid for the next 5 years….and you might even retire there if all goes well! After a look at the current housing market you and your spouse agree to stay put and invest in some changes to your home. Congratulations, making this commitment is the first big step to successful remodeling! So what’s next?

As long as I’ve been in this industry, the questions of how and where to begin a major renovation project comes up again and again. Where do I start? Who do I call? Do I need an architect or a builder? How much will it cost?

Take heart! You are not alone. Remodeling can be complex and there is no single right answer. Here are a few simple tips that might help.

Your three kids in those two tiny bedrooms is beginning to create conflict because the twins are getting older and want privacy. Your kitchen is so small that when there’s a party, you clock your guests while serving your favorite borscht. The bathroom is seriously ugly and the mudroom is non-existent so backpacks just end up on the dining room table. Most people have a pretty good idea of what is not working in their homes. It is less obvious though why something doesn’t work …or more importantly how to fix it. Where to go to get help can be an even greater quandary. Start with a little legwork you can do on your own.

Talk with neighbors, friends, co-workers, realtors and anyone else you know who has remodeled their home. Get recommendations and ask to visit their new spaces. (Bring your new tape measure along; you may want it to check the size of that kitchen island.) You will learn a LOT since people enjoy talking about their renovations-it is often a life changing experience. Visit local home tours, search the internet and peruse magazines to get ideas and a sense about what type of features attract you the most. Make a wishlist of projects you are thinking about and then identify the top three. (You definitely will want these to make the cut when your budget kicks in later.) Meet with your financial planner early and discuss what you can afford. While actual costs vary tremendously, you still need to establish a target budget range to avoid wasting time and money later. This will become critical for an efficient design process. Check. By this time you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed but take a deep breath and….

Failure to plan is planning to fail. Allowing enough time for your research, learning curve, project design, budget exploration and the myriad of decisions that arise during the process will ensure you a stellar outcome! Commit time on your calendar for this up front, it will relieve untold stress. Assume that planning your project is going to take at least as long as it does to build it, if not longer. If done right, once construction begins, you should be able to breathe a sigh of relief, sit back and enjoy watching things unfold!

After you have done your prep work, it’s time to select your team! Not every company will be the right fit for you so it is important to interview several firms to see who clicks with your personal style. Fine you say….. but who should I call first….a builder, an architect or a design/build company?

The good news is that you can start with any of the three. For a complex project like an addition with significant visual and financial impact on your home be sure to factor in the time and money to get a GREAT design. Design is essentially “planning on steroids” and is not something to be overlooked.

By: Debra C. Moore

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Greening Your Home On A Budget 

Today’s favorite buzz word, “green” is really making the rounds. From fully sustainable commercial buildings to consumer tips in Home & Garden Magazines and even specialty retail items like hand bags woven from salvaged gum wrappers, the concept of going green has finally crossed over into the mainstream!

For those of us in the building industry who have fervently nurtured these changes over the last decade, the fact that green is fashionable is thrilling. Better access to affordable, eco-friendly products, information and services means homeowners can derive big benefits from making greener choices for their homes and reduce their carbon footprint at the same time.

THE CHALLENGE IS WHERE TO BEGIN? How does a typical homeowner decipher all the new and often conflicting information out there to serve both home and pocketbook? The onslaught of rapidly changing eco-science, along with a multitude of new businesses spun from green rhetoric can make selecting ideal options for you and your family confusing at best.

The good news is that there are some relatively low cost building modifications that can help without breaking the bank. If you do not have the budget to tear down your house and rebuild it to cutting edge, green standards with a 20 year payback, you may want to consider some of these alternatives.

WHERE TO START: Measure Twice, Cut Once
1. Start by measuring what your home uses now. Get out your old utility bills and determine your yearly consumption. Many utility companies now offer consumer records online along with comparisons to other homes in your area. Use this as a benchmark to contemplate making the changes that are ideally suited for you.

2. Consider getting an energy audit done on your home. The beauty of this low cost whole house inspection (between $300-500) is that it pinpoints the weak spots and allows you to prioritize fixes that get the biggest bang for your buck. Even without an audit, typical home construction provides us some low hanging fruit that you can pluck right away.

KEY AREAS: Exploring Your Built Environment
Be aware that there several types of changes that you can make. Some are behavior based, I.E. they require you to live differently than you might now (like lowering the thermostat and wearing a sweater). Others adapt your infrastructure or “built environment” to perform better. Building science shows us that some components of your home are more likely to waste energy than others and can be easier to fix. Consider the following areas.

• Your Lighting and Electronics
• Your Home’s Thermal Envelope
• Your Heating and Cooling System & Appliances

Try starting here and prioritize projects based on the amount of time and money you want to invest. Since your house operates as a system, upgrading all areas will provide the best result, but modifying one or two can net you savings within the first year.


Consider replacing your old incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents. (cost per bulb = $2-3) They use a quarter of the energy and last 13 times as long. If every U.S. household replaced just one conventional bulb, we could conserve enough energy to light 3 million homes for a year.

A new kind of bulb that uses light-emitting diode (LED) technology is also now available. These bulbs are even more energy-efficient than compact fluorescents and last 10 times longer! The upfront cost is higher than CFL’s (about $25-60) but should drop as technology and demand improve.

HEADS UP! Be sure to get clear on the pros and cons of each bulb type before you buy replacements for every fixture in your home. There are distinct differences that may matter.

Use Motion Sensors, Timers, and Dimmers
Devices that turn off fixtures automatically such as motion sensors and timers, help minimize waste. Dimmers allow you to regulate the brightness of your lights, control how much power they consume and can improve bulb and fixture life.

Residential electronics are responsible for approximately 15% of your household electricity use. The average cost just to power your devices on standby is $100 per year! The typical home has two TV’s (with game boxes), three telephones, one or two computers a DVD player, and phone chargers. Consider getting Energy Star rated devices the next time you buy new and use power strips to turn off your current equipment when it is not in use.


Think of your house as a space enclosed by a large envelope built for thermal protection from the elements, (your walls, roof, etc.) It has become clear that the old ways of thinking about this area are obsolete. In the past installing fiberglass insulation alone was seen as the best way to keep out the cold. Thanks to building science we now know that AIR LEAKS in your home’s thermal envelope minimize the effectiveness of insulation and significantly increase how much energy you lose (and use.)

Consider that a one inch hole in a second floor ceiling to an unconditioned attic space generates as much heat as leaving a hair dryer running continuously there for a year. Finding and sealing up leaks not only substantially reduce your utility bills, but greatly improves thermal comfort for you and your family.

Two typical weak links in the structure of a house are the:
•Attic & Roof- Check for updrafts using a candle or smoke stick. Focus on perforations for pipes, wiring and ceiling fixtures.
•Basement & Crawl spaces - Check the bond joist (where the foundation wall meets the bottom of the first floor).

If you do nothing else, fix these areas first. Fill all joints, cracks and holes BEFORE you insulate. If you are remodeling, be sure your builder understands the need for a tight building envelope.

Other areas to consider for air sealing include:
•Windows: Leaks here are especially common in older homes although new windows-improperly installed- can leak badly too. Replacing all the windows in your home can be costly ($8000-28,000 and up) and can take years to recoup. Unless you plan to change your windows because they are in disrepair, consider installing storm windows or drapes to hold heat in and adjust the window sashes for obvious leaks. Run your hand slowly around the inside window trim and caulk spots where you feel cold air.
•Install tempered glass doors on your fireplace and keep the flue closed. Consider getting an energy efficient insert. When in use, traditional fireplaces can send 24,000 cubic feet of air per hour up the chimney including 90% fire’s heat.
•Examine all exterior doors. Install door sweeps and weather stripping to close the gaps. Be sure to address the hidden space under door sills too.

Since your house acts as a system, before you air seal be sure you have proper whole house ventilation to avoid problems. At a minimum, your HVAC system should have a dampered fresh air intake tied into the return air (approx. $200-400 to install) and a properly sized make-up air system (about $300-800 to install) to compensate for air exhausted from the house. Failing to do so can lead to bad indoor air and can dramatically affect the efficiency of your home.

Insulating your home’s thermal envelope can pay big dividends. Whole house retrofits range from $2000-4500 depending on your home’s size, construction and type used. Pay backs average between 4 to 8 years depending on fuel prices. Foam insulation (Icynene or Polyurethane) are best because it flows around minor obstructions inside the wall and expands into cracks. The next best option is blown in cellulose which has some air sealing ability and pumps fairly easily into existing walls and cavities. Where ever you use fiberglass, be sure to seal all air leaks before installation to maximize its effectiveness.


Your refrigerator accounts for about 20% of the energy you use each month. If you are replacing it, look for an Energy Star product. If not, consider turning down the setting a notch or two and keep it stocked. The compressor works harder to cool the air inside rather than the contents.

Average water heating costs are $400-600 per year. If you have a conventional water heater over 10-15 years old, consider getting it replaced with an Energy Star model ($300-700) and save 15-30% in operating costs. You can insulate the tank with a premade blanket from the hardware store ($25-50) to save another 4-9%. Before you buy a conventional unit, explore some of the newer technology on the market that could offer better incentives and paybacks.
If your furnace is over 15 years old, consider replacing it with a high efficiency, Energy Star unit ($3000-5000) to reduce operating costs by 20%. Be sure to seal all the ductwork connections and insulate ducts located in unheated spaces. Duct sealing is relatively inexpensive and can lower your entire heating bill by 15-20% alone. (for boiler and hydronic systems, see links below)

Consider getting a programmable thermostat that automatically lowers temperature settings at night or when you’re at work. Typical models cost about $100 and can cut your heating and cooling bills by 20%. Ideal settings are 65-68 degrees during high use hours. Once you get to a setting that feels comfortable, try reducing it by two degrees and see if you can adapt. Each degree lower saves you another 3% per month.

FACT: According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. residential sector accounts for 22% of the total energy consumed in the country, 74% of the water used, and 21% of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.

By: Debra C. Moore
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Master Design Award Winners! 

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Welcome to the Custom Design/Build Blog 

Custom Design/Build: We are a passionate team of specialists offering full service, custom home and remodeling services in the greater Ann Arbor area.

For over 30 years we have been honored to serve the people and homes of our community, listening to their needs and goals and making them manifest.

This blog will feature some of our latest projects, new and interesting materials, innovative design/build concepts, and much more.

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Custom Design Build

1220 Jewett, Ann Arbor, MI 48104

734 995 0077


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